Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Making an exhibition of myself

It's been a long time since my first major exhibition way back more than thirty five years ago but it doesn't get any easier, no matter how many times you go through the process. That's how it should be of course, as even though you gain experience with every successive show, you should always aim for the next one to be better.
Salvation Army Sunday School, Splott, Cardiff 1969

Just before I left Cardiff to move to the wilds of West Wales, I approached the Arts Council exhibitions officer to show the collection of photographs of the city that I had built up over a number of years. They were photographs of a city in transition and many of the images depicted sections of the population in and around localities that were being swept away for redevelopment. I reasoned that a show of this work at that time, within the then changing city would be appropriate. The Arts Council loved the photographs but didn't share my reasoning about the exhibition. Instead they suggested that I might approach one of the big department stores in the city and stick up my prints in the window with Blu-Tack. Now I have never been over precious in my regard for my work but even then, I thought this was quite inappropriate for this work so I thanked them for their advice and forgot about it for a while. 
Splott, Cardiff, 1970

Rejections are a fact of life in the creative world and you have to live with the sometimes uncomfortable truth that not everyone shares your own enthusiasm for the work you make. When your work is seen in public, whether through exhibition or publication, you are putting your head above the parapet so to speak so you must expect the brickbats along with, hopefully, a bit of praise. 

The important thing is always to take advice from trusted, practitioners with experience of the particular field and never give up. 
Splott, Cardiff, 1969

When I subsequently moved to West Wales I found myself surrounded by people in the museum and gallery world and with help and advice soon secured an exhibition of the Cardiff work. It was a steep learning curve in terms of editing, presentation, applying for Arts Council grants, dealing with gallery directors and technicians etc. etc.  It also gave me an insight into the sometimes fickle world of the arts and arts councils and how individuals can change their minds about you once others have given recognition to work they might have once rejected. It happened with this exhibition in a small way. The Arts Council, who a short while previously had advised me to stick my prints up in a shop window, now gave me a grant to produce the show and subsequently purchased prints for the Arts Council art collection. Due, in no small way to the fact that others had seen merit in my work and had offered exhibitions. 
Owens Barbers Shop, Bridge Street, Cardiff, 1970

It was a useful insight and I have used this ploy successfully for many years in playing one potential sponsor off against another when I am looking for financial support for projects. Drop big hints that one organisation is supporting you and another, not wanting to be seen to be left behind or out of line with the trend will often stump up too.
Exhibition catalogue

Another thing that one can never accurately predict however is the reaction to any publication or exhibition by press or public. Very often one is contradictory to the other and no matter how often you try to pretend that it doesn't matter, there are times when you can feel a little daunted. Criticism from informed friends or from those whose opinion you respect should always be welcomed. However, sometimes the comments are barbed and made to just belittle the work or make some clever point. Those are never welcome. I have developed a thick(ish) skin and have enough experience now to take it all in, sift the useful comments from the ill-informed and move on. I will write more on that topic again..........